Building trust: experience from the field

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In mid-2015, I began a new position as the leader of a relatively small team of 12 people that had suffered through several years of poor leadership. The culture was rife with mistrust and unhappiness.

Upon arrival, I began to apply the 5C’s in order to build trust and positive momentum.

  1. Character
  2. Commitment
  3. Competence
  4. Connection
  5. Communication

First, I took time to begin CONNECTING with each member of the team. Letting them vent their frustrations and anger at the past; learning about their qualifications, experiences, interests; asking about their families and where they grew up; seeking common ground; trying to see the world through their window. It was a start. As we are geographically dispersed, I looked for opportunities to meet in person and tried to have a check-in phone call with each person regularly.

To help them get to know me and answer the inherent question, “Who is this guy?” I sent an e-mail that listed my leadership values so they had some insight to my CHARACTER. Well, at least they are now aware of my “talk.”

I had to follow up by “walking my talk.”

To show COMPETENCE, I spent much of my first days understanding how the team currently operated and the status of current projects. I looked for low-hanging fruit to lower barriers, empower others, while seeking to learn more about the details of the operation and the expectations of all stakeholders.

As I gained the trust of my teammates I began to make small, but significant changes.

In those early stages, I demonstrated my COMMITMENT by investing my time in being present. Not just physically, but also by regular COMMUNICATION, especially being responsive to questions and requests. This is a great example of how each C reinforces the others. The message I was trying to send every day is “I am here for you and our team.”

In the early stages of a relationship, it’s better to over-COMMUNICATE. In the absence of communication the team will develop their own stories about who we are and where we’re going. So, in addition to daily phone calls and various e-mails, I sent a weekly e-mail to everyone on the team, as well as my boss and our client with a summary of developments, decisions, and information.

To reinforce high-trust behaviors, I sought opportunities to show genuine, heartfelt appreciation when I observed teammates acting in a trustworthy manner IAW the 5C’s.

UPDATE: it is now several years later.  We’ve all learned a lot while accomplishing a lot. Changing culture takes patience and persistence, patience and persistence. We’ve had ups and downs. Some folks are no longer with us; some new folks have saddled-up to ride. I’ve made some mistakes. The biggest one was letting my guard down that sufficient communication was occurring.

Each surprise and setback required rededication to our values and goals.

It is a work in progress that will never end. It requires emotional labor to achieve and sustain lasting change while swatting away the nagging inclination to give up. Through it all I keep the Stockdale Paradox in mind.

How have you done in applying each of the 5C’s with your team?

Be a High-Trust Leader: show patience and persistence in applying the 5C’s.